New JICA chief meets MILF; vows continued aid for Mindanao

KORONADAL CITY (MindaNews/03 May)— The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), under its new leader, Akihiko Tanaka, has vowed to increase aid to Mindanao once the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) ink a final peace agreement.

Tanaka made the assurance Tuesday in a meeting with top MILF officials at the rebels’ Camp Darapanan in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

It was the first foreign official trip of Tanaka after assuming the post last April 1 from Sadako Ogata.

In a report posted on the rebels’ website, Tanaka reiterated Japan’s support to the Mindanao peace process, which recently made a positive stride with the signing of the “10 Decision Points on Principles” by the government and MILF peace panels.

The document, signed during the 27th exploratory talks in Malaysia last month, shall serve as the framework in the discussion and formulation of the comprehensive peace compact.

Tanaka expressed optimism that the recent breakthrough could lead to the forging of a final peace accord.

“Once the peace agreement between the two parties is concluded, JICA will certainly increase its assistance and cooperation in order to help build sustainable peace and development that will benefit all the people [of Mindanao],” he said.

Tanaka noted that he is happy that that JICA assistance and undertakings are “well appreciated and supported by the MILF and the Bangsamoro people.”

Japan takes part in the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team’s rehabilitation and development initiatives.

Tanaka, a political scientist, stressed that a peace process is very hard but it can be hurdled with a strong commitment and determination.

He said he believes in the seriousness of the government and the MILF to make the peace process a success.

With the visit, Tanaka said they intend to devise approaches on how best to help in the development of Mindanao and in the peace process.

Ghazali Jaafar, MILF vice chairman for political affairs, described Tanaka’s visit “as historic and momentous.”

“This is a tremendous boost to the quest for peace, justice and development in the ongoing peace process between the Government of the Philippines and the Bangsamoro people being represented by the MILF,” he said.

Jaafar also thanked the Japanese government for its continuing strong commitment to support the southern peace process.

In 2006, Ogata, the former JICA head, held a meeting with MILF chairman Al Haj Murad Ebrahim also at Camp Darapanan.

Jaafar said the MILF, the largest Moro armed group in the country, would continue to collaborate with JICA’s humanitarian assistance in Mindanao.

Aside from the MILF visit, Tanaka also met earlier Tuesday Mujiv Hataman, appointed governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, whom he also assured of continuing JICA assistance to the impoverished region.

Tanaka later inspected a JICA-funded skills and livelihood training center for Moro women in the area. (Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)